MADISON, Wis. – If there are qualified people out there who can help kids learn, why not let them?

That was clearly the thinking of the majority of members of the Wisconsin State Assembly Education Committee, who approved a bill Thursday that would expand alternative licenses for potential vocational education teachers who come from various industries and lack formal teacher training.

The state already has a program that provides “experience-based” alternative teacher licensing for technical education teachers.

Now K-12 school officials are asking for an expansion of that program to attract candidates for hard-to-fill vocational education teaching positions in business, marketing, agriculture, child care and other academic disciplines, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

That’s why AB 581 was approved by the Education Committee and now heads to the Assembly Rules Committee, which will determine whether it will go to the full Assembly for a vote, according to the newspaper.

But it’s worth noting that there was opposition to the bill on the committee. The vote was 11-5, with every Republican supporting it and every Democrat voting no.

“Critics, including the state Department of Public Instruction, the state’s largest teachers union and university schools of education have raised concerns, saying the measure will lower the bar on teacher standards,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

The “no” votes make sense from a political standpoint. The university schools of education have long had a monopoly on teacher development, which guarantees their continued existence and preserves a lot of jobs.

Alternative certification programs threaten that monopoly.

The union members come from those university schools of education, and many believe their way is the only way. The Department of Public Instruction is run by State Superintendent Tony Evers, a Democrat with strong ties to the union.

And Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin accept a lot of campaign contributions and support from the teachers union. Thus the five “no” votes on the Education committee.

But it’s hard to imagine how alternative teacher licensing could “lower the bar” on teaching standards. Could they really get much lower?

Even federal education officials admit that many American universities are falling short when it comes to K-12 teacher preparation.

“It has long been clear that as a nation, we could do a far better job of preparing teachers for the classroom,” former U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan was quoted as saying. “It’s not just something that studies show – I hear it in my conversations with teachers, principals and parents.” reported that “the vast majority of teacher education programs – housed in universities and colleges across the United States – are not sufficiently preparing future teachers to run their own classrooms, according to a highly critical new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.”

Just how well are traditionally-trained teachers doing in Wisconsin? Perhaps the answer can be found in the results of the Badger Exam – taken by students in grades 3-8 across the state – which were released earlier this week. Only 51 percent tested proficient or advanced in reading, and only 44 percent hit the mark in math.

Even given all of that, the debate might be different if the traditional schools of education could provide enough teachers to fill the vocational positions – even lower-quality teachers. But these jobs are going unfilled and students are being denied the opportunity to learn marketable skills.

As Emily Koczela, finance director for the Brown Deer school district, told the Journal Sentinel, “If we can’t get the teachers to get students into those jobs, then we’ve failed them.”


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